The upcycling working style of TagTomat is called Danish UpcycleTM and this blog post is dedicated to showing you how TagTomat does that and always has been doing. It is in the core of the company’s DNA. This will also be the last blog post I will write and so I will conclude my share of this series. For if you have missed the last two blog post (What is upcycling? – Why should we Upcycle?), you will first be given a brief summary on what upcycling is and arguments for why it’s a good thing to do. Then, you can read a brief history of TagTomat and its upcycling working style, which is concluded by our definition of Danish UpcycleTM.
If you scroll down a little, you will find a clickable version of our photo montage of the evolution of Danish UpcycleTM.
A short summary of upcycling
What is upcycling?
A nice definition of upcycling given in scientific literature is ‘taking a used material and converting it into something new with more value and/or quality’1. Historically, upcycling has been done for a long time and was a natural thing to do until the 1950’s when the Western culture changed from building long lasting products that could be maintained towards creating products and packaging designed to be quickly used and thrown away2.
The term ‘upcycling’ was first used in 1994 as a word opposite for the destructive management of waste materials1. Upcycling since then spread increasingly and can now be seen as a practical form in the Circular Economy3,4. The goal of the Circular Economy is to stop waste in landfills or incineration and instead let it circulate back to the producer and then user again3. Upcycling is about creating more value/quality out of used materials and can be divided into two methods1:
- The more technical ‘material recovery’, which improves the material qualities or properties of used materials by adding different materials to it. An example from TagTomat is adding mycelium to straw and sawdust to create a material with a new mushroom producing quality.
- The more practical ‘product recreation’, which transforms used materials or products in order to give then a higher value. This is the core of what TagTomat does by using discarded materials to build urban gardening products, which have a better purpose(so more value) than the waste it was before.
Position of Upcycling and TagTomat in the circular economy
Why should we upcycle?
The overall issue that upcycling can solve, is slowing down the throw-away culture we have at the moment1,2,5. More than half of the waste in Denmark is incinerated (53.4%) or landfilled (1.7%)6. Yet, this makes the issue also complex, because the incineration provides the Danish population with heating and electricity, which is hard to replace in a short time. Currently, implementing new and better separation systems is also expensive and experiments in the past(in Denmark and elsewhere) had a hard time to get the majority of citizens to sort waste correctly and consistently. Still, with these current methods we lose valuable resources6.7.
Upcycling can help directly save materials and give it back to the people. Indirectly, it also slows down the demand for new materials and their production and when done locally upcycling saves energy in transportation and makes people or an area more independent of resources. In developing countries it leads to thriving businesses and practicing upcycling at home can have a positive effect on a person’s wellbeing. Most of all upcycling can inspire people look differently at waste material and hopefully change their behaviour and little by little culture in general1,2,8.
A good upcycled product should also have the following principles2:
- Use local waste – Minimise transportation by using used/wasted materials from local sources.
- Material Selection – Don’t use materials which had high complexity and (environmental) costs in their first manufacturing phase, like electronic circuit boards. These materials are better of properly recycled in order to reduce primary production.
- Future lifecycle – Don’t combine different materials which are hard to separate at the end of the product’s lifecycle. For example, use screws and bolts or other mechanical connections over glue or welding.
- Long lasting products – Make products with a long lifetime and high quality in order to slow down consumption and so reduce environmental impact. Additionally, try to make products which create personal attachment and which are therefore kept longer.
Lifecycles of materials being upcycled at TagTomat
A small history of upcycling in TagTomat
TagTomat has a long history of upcycling and although not every part of the process can be put into text, a brief summary of TagTomat’s achievements is given to you. You will notices that from the start TagTomat’s upcycling (Danish UpcycleTM) involves a lot of local, DIY and community aspects, which is quite unique especially when the projects kept growing in size and interest.
“I grew up with a grandfather, that always said, do not throw this or that away, you never know when you will have to repair or create a new tool in the workshop. I spend my summer vacations in the old country house of my grandparents in Langeland, a house from the mid 1800’ies, with a barn filled to the rooftop with saved materials and scrap”
The evolution of Danish UpcycleTM 2011-2018
2011: A rooftop and scrap materials full of potential
TagTomat initially grew out of a desire for a community garden on a sunny spring day in 2011. Mads saw the potential for this garden in the empty roof of the collective recycling shed in his backyard, which was unused and a bit of an eye sore.
Mads knew from home how to make a self-watering system for plants to grow, but needed materials to build it. Therefore, he took what was at his close disposal and created TagTomat´s first upcycled products (see image below). The materials that were at Mads’ disposal for making the products consisted of 5 old plastic containers, some used Styrofoam baskets from the local greengrocer and 5 bags of fertilizer, where even the plastic was used as water containers. The crops cultivated obviously being tomatoes!
As explained above, this is the purest form of product recreation upcycling, done at home, with simple or used materials, no need to fix anything with glue and with inspiration and value to the creator and his neighbors.
2011: The first upcycled rooftop garden
2012: The start of a community for an upcycled garden
The next year Mads wanted to share his knowledge of urban gardening with the local community and got support from a local fund – The local council of Nørrebro (Nørrebro Lokaludvalg). A voluntary workshop for his neighbors and others interested in Nørrebro was set up. Many new self-watering plant cases were created and so new tubs and soil had to be bought, but Mads still went around to local greengrocers to pick up Styrofoam crates.
The first workshop was a great success and 35 plant cases were created out of local materials. Additionally, the workshop inspired the local community to create herb gardens out of used pallet crates as well, which provided 15 to 20 families with herbs throughout the summer. On the side, the TagTomat website was created to share all the findings and activities with the rest of Denmark.
2012: A full rooftop garden created through workshops and a community
2013: the Sidewalk garden – TagTomat’s first project
With the increasing interest, Mads was approached by another building community in Skt. Kjelds quarters to help build a garden on the sidewalk of their building. Again a self-watering system was developed out of used material, yet this garden needed to be bigger than the ones of first workshops and one requirement for the garden was that it should contain water during heavy rainfall to prevent flooding.
Therefore, 30 old 1000 liter containers were obtained from the food industry. After transformation, these could save up to 350 liters of water each, and a total of 10.000 liters could be contained if needed. Furthermore, this garden was also created for the larger part by voluntary workshops to educate locals on how to create urban gardens with upcycled materials (see blog post from 2013). Additionally, this year more workshops were given both ones to create the smaller black container plant cases or for the larger food container boxes.
2013: Fortovhaven – the sidewalk garden under construction
2014: TagTomat as a company
With the interest of the workshops and requests for three bigger projects in one year, TagTomat transformed into a company in order to facilitate them properly. The new company’s first headquarter was at Dare2Mansion in between Østerbro and Nørrebro, where all their materials could be stored.
In 2014, TagTomat continued to provide workshops to anyone who wanted to. This included primary and secondary schools, other areas of the city, immigrants homes and even participants of the Roskilde festival. The workshops became more diverse and apart from the plant cases, TagTomat educated people on how to make upcycled urban gardens suitable in homes with the use of old food buckets and plastic bottles.
2014: Urban gardening workshops throughout the city
2015: The Royal kitchen garden
In 2015, TagTomat collaborated with the ministry of food(Fødevareministeriet) and the castle and cultural heritage agency(Styrelsen for Slotte og Kulturejendomme) to create a public urban farm in the Kongenshave in Copenhagen called Kongens Køkkenhave. On the request of the collaborators, this TagTomat garden had to improve its upcycling aesthetics and so larch wooden planks were used for most of the garden and improve the looks of the original black plastic tubs. Although, not much was upcycled in this project. It did become part of TagTomat’s path to combine aesthetics with upcycling. Nevertheless, the garden was again set up via a workshop where the local community could work on raising the urban garden.
2015: workshop for the creation of the King’s Kitchen garden
The biggest urban garden project TagTomat did until now, was constructed in Nordhavn in 2016. The project was called Redmolen sommeren 2016 and was a temporary one before the area would turn into a construction site. TagTomat raised a summer garden, which included four large flower beds, multiple self-watering plant cases, integrated furniture and couches out of old pallets. This time again, the rougher upcycling suited the harbor environment. Additionally, a beach, a beach volley court, a beach bar and food trucks were established as well by partners.
The project, although temporary, became a big success with a lot of visitors, activities and workshops appearing. It was an example of how urban gardening could compliment the raw industrial area of Nordhavn as a living space and it even attracted birds and insects.
2016: Finished part of the Redmolen summer site
2017: TagTomat wins the public’s price at CPH garden
In 2017 TagTomat was invited to create 1 of 12 iconic gardens on the CPH garden fair 2017. In collaboration with Champost, a garden was created on only 9m2. Still, besides using upcycled materials in the construction, this time the garden also was built in multiple layers, sheltered chickens and fish and utilized the rain water in this system. Champost also supplied sustainable soil for the plants in the garden. On the last day of the fair, TagTomat’s ‘Fællesskabshaven’(community garden) was granted the public’s winner of the fair.
2017 was also the year, where TagTomat collaborated with Sharing Copenhagen and Nyhavnkroen to create green anti-terror blockades. In this project existing grey blockades were transformed into objects with secondary functions of bicycle parkings, a bench and cheery flower beds.
2017: the Community garden (Fællesskabshaven) getting interest during the CPH garden fair
2018: Foodexpo and the Malmø garden show
The Foodexpo is the largest food fair in the Nordic countries and this year TagTomat had the opportunity to inspire the Nordic food industry on urban gardening but, also to make it aware of the opportunities of upcycling (see photo below on the left). TagTomat also showed again how fish, chickens and vegetables can be grown together in an urban environment.
Additionally, TagTomat was invited to the Malmø garden show to create one of the 7 gardens at the fair. Here the company created the ‘The town in the city’ (byen i byen) garden, where again TagTomat showed their Nordic neighbors how urban farming can be done on a relatively small scale.
2018: part of TagTomat’s installation at the Foodexpo 2018
2018: part of TagTomat’s installation at the Foodexpo 2018
The Definition of Danish Upcycle™
“The Danish design DNA, as it emerged from the “golden age” of Scandinavian modern furniture design in the 1950s, has always been characterised with a focus not only on quality, but also long-term sustainability. More recently, a diverse group of designers have committed themselves to the circular economy and are currently developing a unique Danish approach to some of the key considerations in designing for circular principles and upcycling.”
Danish Upcycle™ is the way TagTomat upcycles and has been evolving since the construction of the first plant case build by Mads for the roof of the local recycling shed. The process around different workshops, urban gardens and a community have been shaping the way upcycling is done by the company and a four aspects have become constant over this time.
1. Used materials are collected from local partnerships as much as possible (between 0-300 km away)
With local partnerships, TagTomat reduces the costs of transportation, both economically and environmentally. Upcycling with local materials makes the most sense and resource can be saved in Denmark and can inspire others to do the same.
2. Products fit to existing industrial standards (A4 paper, EPAL pallets, Ice cream boxes etc.)
By fitting the products to existing industrial standards, there is no need to produce new special tools, industrial molds, heavy machinery, etc. which could also bring extra environmental burdens.
3. Products are suitable for the community and can be done by anyone and preferably together in workshops.
Everybody should be able to create TagTomat’s products and with it should become inspired to upcycle too. The end goal of TagTomat is to run out of business because customers upcycle their own products, until that time we help via workshops or will do it for customers.
4. Products are open source and knowledge is shared on TagTomat’s forum and blog posts.
All products are licensed under the official Creative Commons license, this means that everybody is encouraged to recreate TagTomat’s products and share experiences, it is only not allowed to sell the products. This is also to inspire people to upcycle more and create better products together. Used materials like milk packages, ice boxes and old pallets are also widely available so this makes it easier to recreate the products too.
- Sung, K.,(2015) International Conference on Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, At Venice, Volume: 17, p.28-40 The quote can be found on page 30
- Bridgens, B., Powell, M., Farmer, G., Walsh, C., Reed, E., Royapoor, M., Gosling, P., Hall, J. and Heidrich, O. (2018). Creative upcycling: Reconnecting people, materials and place through making. Journal of Cleaner Production, 189, pp.145-154.
- Kirchherr, J., Reike, D. and Hekkert, M. (2017). Conceptualizing the Circular Economy: An Analysis of 114 Definitions. Resources, Conservation & Recycling, 127, pp.221-232.
- Höfte, M. (2018). Danish Upcycle: What is upcycling? – TagTomat. [online] TagTomat. Available at: https://tagtomat.dk/2018/10/11/danish-upcycle-what-is-upcycling/ [Accessed 18 Dec. 2018].
- Jepsen, Anita T, Pedersen, Anne B, Andersen, Sisse V, 2018, Consumer activation in circular economy: Towards an understanding of implementing upcycling as a means to establish a circular business model, Master thesis, Aalborg university page 17 and 18
- Zacho, K., Mosgaard, M. and Riisgaard, H. (2018). Capturing uncaptured values — A Danish case study on municipal preparation for reuse and recycling of waste. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 136, pp.297-305.
- Poulsen, T. (2013). Materials recovery – a challenge for municipal solid waste managers. Waste Management & Research, 31(9), pp.879-880.
- Höfte, M. (2018). Danish Upcycle: Why should we upcycle? – TagTomat. [online] TagTomat. Available at: https://tagtomat.dk/2018/11/08/danish-upcycle-why-should-we-upcycle/ [Accessed 18 Dec. 2018].
A. State of Green, 2016, Circular economy – Denmark as a circular economy solution hub, State of Green, Version 1 via: https://stateofgreen.com/files/download/10574
Hello, my name is Matthijs and I’m an intern at TagTomat and in the autumn of 2018 I’m going to work with the term upcycling and see what more it can bring to TagTomat and its community. I’m studying the master Sustainable Design at Aalborg University. The study teaches how to design concepts, products and services with a sustainable impact and how these designs (can be) fit into contemporary society.